Preventing Sports Injuries Begins Off The Field

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For today’s athletes, the fight against injury doesn’t begin with treatment and rehabilitation, it starts far earlier.

Many athletic trainers, physicians and exercise physiologists agree that perhaps the most important step in treating an injury is preventing one before it even happens.

For Ohio Bobcats Running Back Beau Blankenship, proper strength and conditioning training has been key to his success on the football field and in staying healthy.

He is also taking his knowledge of exercise physiology and athletic training straight to the Ohio University and Athens community.

When he is not evading would-be tacklers, Blankenship spends his time working as a personal trainer at WellWorks, Ohio University’s wellness center located in Grover Center.

WellWorks represents a long-term commitment to health and fitness at Ohio University. Dr. Fritz Hagerman, professor emeritus of exercise physiology, was instrumental in starting the WellWorks program over 25 years ago.

Today, the center still remains one of the best-kept secrets on campus. Its primary patrons are university faculty and staff members and residents of the Athens community.

WellWorks Fitness Coordinator Maghan Lunsford said the secluded environment is part of what makes the center such an attractive place for people to visit.

“It’s definitely pretty calm and quiet a lot of the time. Without the noise of a lot of college students, people are able to come in and focus on getting a good workout,” she said.

It’s important to note that WellWorks is not just a fitness center, but the whole wellness package, Lunsford said.

The center boasts a comprehensive weight room and cardio area for individual workouts, but also has numerous offerings for group exercise.

WellWorks offers more traditional classes like spinning and those that target strengthening your arms, legs and core. If you’re looking for a workout that’s a little less conventional, the center also offers instruction in yoga, Pilates and Zumba.

WellWorks also employs four licensed massage therapists. Massage can be key in preventing injuries because it promotes better blood flow and circulation and helps in loosening up tight muscles, so they are less likely to spasm and result in an injury. Several varsity sports teams at OU have inquired into the massage program to help their athletes, Lunsford said.

WellWorks has been actively involved with the College of Health Sciences and Professions throughout the years, and it places a great emphasis on educating all students, faculty and community members who walk through their doors.

Physical therapy students use the strength training machines for research projects, and during Public Health Week, physical therapy professors partner with WellWorks to conduct at running screening for community members. They also utilize medical students to work one-on-one with participants in the Healthy OHIO Program, a program for university employees that looks at participants’ medical histories and health habits in order to create a custom wellness plan and provide them with health coaching.           

“There’s such a wide range of people in here that really makes it wonderful and comfortable,” said Lunsford, a former Ohio University softball player herself.

Sometimes professors bring their classes down to look at the center’s flashiest machine, the Bod Pod. The large egg-shaped device, uses air displacement to measure a person’s body fat percentage and resting metabolism.

 It is the most accurate measurement tool of its kind and also the least invasive. Just by sitting inside the Bod Pod for a brief period of time, a person avoids the pinching of calipers or unnecessary awkwardness of submerging themselves in a swimming pool. It is very useful in helping people determine that they are losing the kind of weight that they want to and not muscle mass said Lunsford.

As the head fitness coordinator, Lunsford helps to supervise the majority of both the undergraduate and graduate student staff, including personal trainers.

For Beau Blankenship, who used to study exercise physiology and has always been interested in athletic training, working at WellWorks seemed like a no brainer. After he transferred to Ohio from Iowa State in 2009, Blankenship was looking for a job, and when some friends told him that WellWorks had a position open he jumped at the opportunity.

Blankenship has had an extensive background in strength and agility training. He has trained with NFL players in Phoenix and also placed second in the nation in an Olympic-style weightlifting competition in 2009.

Working with a group consisting of mainly faculty members and older community members has posed new challenges for Blankenship, but he says it has been exciting to tailor workouts specific for people of different ages with different health needs he said.

Blankenship typically works with members at WellWorks three times a week, but that can vary somewhat when his football responsibilities take priority.

“It’s tough to fit things in (at WellWorks) especially during fall and spring practices, but I try to get there on my off days for two or three hours because I really enjoy it,” he said.

The knowledge that he has gained at WellWorks has been invaluable in helping him to prevent injuries in his own athletic career.

“In lifting you definitely know what is beneficial and what will hurt you and it’s good to have that overall knowledge when you’re in the weight room and when you are training to be better,” Blankenship said.

Continuity in the center’s main leadership has also been key to its continuing success said Maghan Lunsford. Today, a few of its founding members, including Kim Valentour, who serves as the current director, are still significantly involved. 

Hagerman, who has been in Athens since 1967 and is officially retired from teaching, is still conducting research with Ohio University students in the exercise physiology lab.

Hagerman is still one of the most respected exercise physiologists today. In his career, he has been a part of more than 10 Olympic games with U.S. and New Zealand rowing teams, has three World Series rings from working with the Cincinnati Reds and Florida Marlins. He has even been sponsored by Nike and New Balance in the estimated 20 marathons that he has run in.

Hagerman started the exercise physiology program at Ohio University, but he created his first exercise physiology lab while he was working with world-class distance runners at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

He was approached one day by a group of rowers who invited him to a regatta and asked him if he could help train them like he had trained the runners.

“I was just in awe of the kind of rowing expenditure that rowing required, they were doing something totally different,” Hagerman said.

After helping to develop a rowing ergometer, or indoor rowing machine still widely used in his lab today, Hagerman tested the athletes and then, in 1967, signed a contract to come to Ohio University without ever seeing Athens.

Hagerman said he was very struck by then-President Vernon Alden’s commitment to strong academics and fitness. Alden was known for promoting exercise and wellness and was even known for playing basketball with students in his driveway.

So much of keeping your body healthy and free from injury is not only about understanding the physiology, but understanding nutrition as well, Hagerman said.

Hagerman has been fortunate enough to collaborate on a number of research projects with his wife Marjorie, who has taught nutrition at Ohio University as long as she and Dr. Hagerman have been in Athens.

Starting in 1968, step one in helping the United States rowing team become a contender was teaching the athletes about providing their bodies with the appropriate fuel.

“They were horrible eaters. They thought Oreo cookies and ice cream were carbohydrates,” Hagerman said.

Hagerman has been able to work with many professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports, testing them to determine how they can improve their performance and decrease the potential for injury.

“Physiology is interesting because it is not done in isolation and you are always exposed to the elements and other factors,” he said. “Forty percent of our bodies are skeletal muscle. The smooth muscles around our arteries and heart are supposed to aid the skeletal muscle. We were built to exercise.”       

Hagerman is able to use scientific methods to measure oxygen consumption, amount of acidity that occurs in muscle after heavy exercise, and can identify muscle fiber type, and how well oxygen is taken up and delivered, all key components in quantifying athletic performance.

The methods of measuring are still invasive today, and you will always have to take muscle biopsies, but things are far improved from what they used to be Hagerman said.

“We can now take a drop of blood and know the acidity of someone’s blood in 13 seconds,” he said. “We used to have to take 20 milliliters, freeze it and spin it in the centrifuge for two hours, and we had to take hundreds of samples.”

Exercise physiology testing is also incredibly effective due to its nature as an objective methodology. The methods can tell an athlete if they are really as good as they think they are, Hagerman said.

After all of his success at the international and Olympic levels, Hagerman has proven that the science doesn’t lie.

“If you have the goods, then you may not be predicting gold, but you know that you have what it takes to be competitive,” he said. “When you are able to maximize performance and perform at a high level for an extended period of time, you can protect your body and ultimately be successful.”

Jordan Brogley Webb is an Ohio University Honors Tutorial Student.  This is the fourth of a four-part weekly series focusing on athletic injuries.